Novel intensified liquid-liquid contactors for mass transfer in sustainable energy generation.

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Chemical Engineering

Abstract

The rapid growth of the population worldwide and the drive for economic development rely on continuous supply of energy, with global needs estimated to increase by 50% by 2035. Although fossil fuels are still the primary energy source, the problems associated with security of supply and the environmental impact because of the CO2 emissions, are going to limit their use in the foreseeable future. Low carbon and renewable energy sources, such as nuclear and biofuels, which are increasingly used, will meet progressively these energy demands.
Nuclear energy from fission is a low carbon source and can provide large amounts of electricity and process heat using only small amounts of raw material. However, one of the main concerns in the nuclear fuel cycle is the management of the radioactive waste which can remain toxic for thousands of years. The expansion in nuclear power generation makes the problem of nuclear waste management particularly acute. Reprocessing of nuclear fuel can potentially recover the remaining actinides and fission products, and reduce the volume and toxicity of the spent fuel for storage or disposal in geological repositories. However, reprocessing has been associated with high costs, making the direct storage and ultimate disposal of high level waste the preferred option. Liquid-liquid extraction technologies are essential in spent nuclear fuel reprocessing where currently used contactors are decades old and are not well characterised.
In this project we will develop novel liquid-liquid contactors for extraction processes that will intensify the production of energy from alternative and sustainable sources. Intensification addresses the need for materials and energy savings and contributes significantly to the competitiveness of process industries worldwide by making industrial processes faster, more efficient and less damaging to the environment. Substantial process intensification is possible with the use of small scale contactors, where the reduced length scales result in thin fluid films which enhance mass transfer rates, while the increased surface to volume ratios enable the controlled formation of well characterised flow patterns. We will develop two concepts to intensify liquid-liquid extractions and increase throughputs to industrial levels. The first approach involves an intensified impinging-jets contactor, where the two liquid phases collide at high velocities in the small space of the contactors; the intense mixing and high energy dissipation rates at the zone of collision form dispersions with small drop sizes and narrow distributions that have large interfacial areas. The second approach involves scale up of the process by increasing the number of small channels used (scale out). This approach differs from conventional scale up where the unit size is increased, and depends on the design of the flow distributor that feeds the channels.
The research will be carried out in collaboration with two industrial partners, i.e. NNL which develops nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies and Greenegy that produces biodiesel. The active involvement and support of the partners in the project will facilitate technology transfer.

Planned Impact

The need for sustainable energy production has driven the growth of alternative and low carbon energy sources. Fossil fuels are still important in the energy mix, but not unlimited, and due to their significant environmental impact, their use will be restricted in the future. Cleaner and renewable energy sources, such as nuclear and biofuels are expected to play an important role in the global energy landscape. UK's perspective is that both nuclear energy and biofuels will be part of the long term objective of a secure, low carbon, affordable, energy future.
Despite the many advantages of alternative energy sources, there are often issues associated with either the efficiency of the production process and or the management of the waste that is created. These issues can have a direct impact on UK tax payers and thus development of innovative solutions which will reduce costs is paramount.
Our research and proposed technology will lead to efficient and cost effective production of low carbon energy (nuclear) as well as energy from waste. The technologies proposed will lead to significant environmental benefits (e.g. CO2 reduction; waste recycling; reduction of nuclear waste to be disposed), and cost benefits by producing fuel from waste cooking oil. The findings of the research will inform the options considered by policy makers on spent nuclear fuel processing or disposal strategies. More generally the results of our project can help overcome the issues and reservations that limit the application of intensified processes to energy production. This will be greatly facilitated by the close links developed in the project with two of the potential users of the technology.
The intensified extractions are also applicable to general metal separations either from waste or from ores. They are also widely used in separations or production of emulsions in the food (flavours), cosmetics and pharmaceutical (proteins, antibiotics) industries. Overall, the outputs of the proposed novel technology will have direct and indirect impact to many sectors of the UK economy.
The anticipated expansion of the nuclear and biofuels industries will create the need for researchers and engineers with relevant knowledge and skills. The close involvement of NNL and Greenergy will train the researchers involved in the project on industrial practice and on issues of new technology uptake by industry.
 
Description -We developed intensified small scale separators and reactors. These use reduced amounts of solvents and have high efficiencies.
-We produced biofuel from waste cooking oil in only one reaction step.
-We developed a small scale reactor that can specifically be used to produce a small amount of biofuel for waste cooking oil, enough for initial analysis and screening
Exploitation Route -The intensified contactors can be used in other processes as well (e.g. for separations, reactions).
-tBecause of their small volume, the intensified contractors only require small amounts of materials and can be used to study the effects and asses the performance of new reagents.
-The small scale reactor can be used in the analysis and screening of different waste cooking oils to assess their suitability for biofuel production.
Sectors Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/chemical-engineering/thames-advanced-multiphase-systems
 
Description The intensified small contractors have been used in the transesterification of waste cooking oil in one reaction step for the production of biofuels. This reduces the volume of chemicals and time needed for the reaction. In addition, we demonstrated that a single small channel contractor can process a small sample of cooking oil and produce enough biofuel for analysis and for screening of the waste oil.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Energy
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Continuous intensified solvent extraction in phrmaceutical processes using hydrophobic water microemulsions from ionic liquids
Amount £85,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EPSRC Voucher code 19000102 
Organisation Johnson Matthey 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 08/2021
 
Description Flow Pattern Transitions In Oil-Water Flows - Impact Studentship
Amount £66,000 (GBP)
Organisation Chevron Corporation 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 09/2018 
End 02/2022
 
Description Novel intensified liquid-liquid contactors for mass transfer in sustainable energy generation
Amount £195,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P034101/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 12/2018
 
Description PREdictive Modelling with QuantIfication of UncERtainty for MultiphasE Systems (PREMIERE)
Amount £6,560,538 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T000414/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 09/2024
 
Description UK Japan Civil Nuclear Energy Collaboration Phase 4
Amount £253,038 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R019223/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 03/2020
 
Description IProPBio 
Organisation Federal University of Paraná
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise on intensified processes and particularly on liquid-liquid reactions and separations. Access to equipment for intensified processes.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge of thermodynamics, phase equilibrium measurements and thermodynamic modeling. Also process synthesis and optimization for the design of biorefineries
Impact This is an international collaboration with partners from Europe, US and Brazil. The consortium has formed to apply for funding for the design, optimization and operation of sustainable biorefineries for multi product portfolios.
Start Year 2017
 
Description IProPBio 
Organisation University of Patras
Department Department of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics
Country Greece 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise on intensified processes and particularly on liquid-liquid reactions and separations. Access to equipment for intensified processes.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge of thermodynamics, phase equilibrium measurements and thermodynamic modeling. Also process synthesis and optimization for the design of biorefineries
Impact This is an international collaboration with partners from Europe, US and Brazil. The consortium has formed to apply for funding for the design, optimization and operation of sustainable biorefineries for multi product portfolios.
Start Year 2017
 
Description IProPBio 
Organisation University of Southern Denmark
Country Denmark 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise on intensified processes and particularly on liquid-liquid reactions and separations. Access to equipment for intensified processes.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge of thermodynamics, phase equilibrium measurements and thermodynamic modeling. Also process synthesis and optimization for the design of biorefineries
Impact This is an international collaboration with partners from Europe, US and Brazil. The consortium has formed to apply for funding for the design, optimization and operation of sustainable biorefineries for multi product portfolios.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Mexican Society Engineering Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dissemination of the research work on intensified liquid-liquid processes in front of a wide audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Poster competition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of research work within the UCL.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Visit by school students 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Students visited the research lab and carried out experiments on rheology measurements and on the use of microfluidics for two phase flow studies. The experiments motivated questions and discussion on non-Newtonian fluids and their applications to modern products. They also prompted further discussions on research and its significance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We created a website to expose our research activities on the flow and transport phenomena in complex two-phase systems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/multiphase-advances-research/index